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Publication Briefs

Study Suggests No Advantage in Collaborative Care vs. Usual Care for Veterans with PTSD

Although VA now requires mandatory PTSD screening in primary care clinics, Veterans with PTSD who are treated in these settings may have fewer visits for PTSD, or be less likely to obtain medication treatment relative to Veterans who are treated in specialty mental healthcare. There have been no published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of primary care-based treatment specifically for patients with PTSD. This RCT compared a collaborative approach — the Three Component Model (3CM) — with usual care for treating PTSD in primary care. Investigators recruited 195 Veterans (40% served in Iraq or Afghanistan; 42% in Vietnam) from five primary care clinics at four VA healthcare facilities from 3/08 through 4/10. Participants were randomly assigned to receive usual care alone or usual care in addition to 3CM, which also provided telephone care management. The primary outcome measured was PTSD symptom severity. Secondary outcomes included depression, functioning, perceived quality of care, healthcare use, and costs.


  • Over a 6-month period, primary care patients with PTSD in both 3CM and usual care groups showed small but clinically insignificant improvement in PTSD, depression, and functioning. No additional benefit was found for Veterans assigned to the 3CM treatment compared to those receiving usual care, despite the fact that 3CM patients were more likely to receive an antidepressant and had more mental health visits.
  • Among Veterans who provided a numeric rating for PTSD care, half rated it as excellent or very good; however, 3CM was associated with lower perceived quality of PTSD care. Almost two-thirds of Veterans rated their overall care as excellent or very good, and the groups did not differ.
  • Costs were similar for both groups, except that Veterans assigned to 3CM had higher outpatient pharmacy costs.


  • The authors state that it would be premature to conclude from these findings that 3CM is not effective for treating PTSD in primary care settings. A large, uncontrolled study in the Army suggested a larger benefit of 3CM among soldiers treated at an earlier stage. The severity and comorbidity in VA patients with PTSD may underlie the smaller effects of evidence-based PTSD treatment in the VA population. However, this study suggests the need for careful examination of how collaborative care models for PTSD are implemented — and for additional support to encourage primary care providers to manage PTSD.


  • Findings may not generalize to settings where access to mental healthcare is lower.
  • Outcomes may have differed if the study had been longer, e.g., 12 months as in the IMPACT study and other studies of collaborative care for depression.

This study was funded by HSR&D (IAC 06-073). Drs. Schnurr, Friedman, and Shiner, and Mss. Forshay and Thurston are part of VA's National Center for PTSD, White River Junction, VT. Dr. Smith was part of HSR&D's Health Economics Resource Center, Palo Alto, CA.

PubMed Logo Schnurr P, Friedman M, Oxman T, Dietrich A, Smith M, Shiner B, Forshay E, Gui J, and Thurston V. RESPECT-PTSD: Re-Engineering Systems for the Primary Care Treatment of PTSD, A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of General Internal Medicine August 3, 2012;Epub ahead of print.

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HSR requires notification by HSR-funded investigators about all articles accepted for publication. These journal articles are reviewed by HSR and publication briefs or summaries are written for a select number of articles that are then forwarded to VHA Central Office leadership to keep them informed about important findings or information. Articles to be summarized are selected by HSR based on timeliness of the findings, interest of leadership, or potential impact on the organization. Publication briefs are written for only a small number of HSR published articles. Visit the HSR citations database for a complete listing of HSR articles and presentations.

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